Hi once again fellow users. I’ve decided to finally propose a character that I’ve honestly thought could possibly qualify for a pretty long time now, but have only just recently gathered the confidence to propose due to one, re-watching the movies, and two, discovering I’m actually not the only one who thinks that way about them. I’d also like to note in advance that while I will acknowledge their role in the original books since I at least read the first two in the trilogy that she was featured in a while back, and will therefore highlight any differences I feel are important since the movies do, ahem… diverge a little from the source material, I’m basing this more on their portrayal in the movie. That’s because their role in general is more prominent and fleshed out in that version (after all, you can’t have a big-name actress like Kate Winslet play her and only give her a few minutes of screen time), not to mention their qualification for the category is more obvious there, at least in my opinion. So it’s more based on that version, but it ultimately applies to both. With that established, let’s get started.
What’s the work?
The Divergent Series is a trilogy of young adult novels that were written by Veronica Roth and have drawn a lot of comparisons to similar stories like The Hunger Games and The Giver. Like many popular YA series, it was eventually adapted into a series of movies, which unfortunately, due to declining interest, box office numbers, reception, and the common decision to split the final book into two movies, never got completed, with the second half of Allegiant, which they named Ascendant, never seeing the light of day. Anyhow, set in a post-apocalyptic, walled-up version of Chicago in the aftermath of some catastrophe called the Purity Wars, society has set up a system where all of its citizens are sorted into five different factions based on their personalities and certain virtues they most embody; Erudite for the intelligent, Amity for the kind, Candor for the honest, Dauntless for the brave/fearless, and Abnegation for the selfless, for the sake of maintaining peace and order.
The story centers on a particular girl from Abnegation named Beatrice “Tris” Prior, who upon taking a test prior to the Choosing Ceremony that everyone at a certain age has to participate in, which is meant to help them determine which faction suits them best before they decide which one they either want to stay with or transfer to in the ceremony itself, discovers she’s actually Divergent. This means that she’s among a minority of individuals who has an aptitude for most or all of the factions, which unfortunately, also makes her a threat in the eyes of some of the faction leaders, who see their independent will and inability to be neatly categorized as a threat to the established order and system. Therefore, after she ultimately decides to transfer into Dauntless, she must work hard to both pass initiation so she won’t become factionless, as well as keep her true nature a secret. In the meantime, she bonds with both some of the other initiates transferring from other factions and one of the Dauntless instructors named Four, but also discovers a rather horrifying conspiracy. And of course, the most responsible party for said conspiracy is none other than our featured guest of (dis)honor.
Who is she and what does she do?
Jeanine Matthews is the current leader of the Erudite faction as of the time the series takes place. Naturally, she rose to this rank due to her extremely high IQ, and at least in the movies, she first appears at the Choosing Ceremony that Tris and her brother Caleb ae participating in. While she initially comes off as polite and encouraging when it comes to choosing where they truly belong, it is gradually revealed over the course of the first movie that this is merely a cover for what she really is; an ice-cold psychopath with no empathy for anyone or any moral lines she won’t cross to get what she wants.
Over the course of the movie, it becomes increasingly apparent that Erudite, chiefly Jeanine, is trying to undermine Abnegation by stirring up negative, baseless rumors like them hording food and many of their important leaders and figures, like Marcus Eaton and Tris and Caleb’s parents, being so abusive that their children wanted to transfer to other factions to escape them (this is sadly true in Marcus’ case, who occasionally beat his son Tobias/Four, even though he came to regret it, but otherwise, like in the case of Tris and Caleb’s parents, it’s mostly baseless slander). This is because Abnegation has been put in control of their government due to being the most trusted because of their selfless nature, meaning they’re the least likely to abuse their power. Naturally though, those in Erudite like Jeanine have come to feel like they should be the ones in charge for their intelligence.
However, the extent of their plans is much, much, much, much worse than merely discrediting and overthrowing them with lies and rumors. As it turns out, Jeanine and her faction are conspiring with some of the leaders of Dauntless, namely Eric Coulter and Max, to completely exterminate the Abnegation faction and everyone in it. To this end, they supply Dauntless with a serum that the leaders pose as being necessary for tracking them while performing their duties, but its actual purpose is to put them under the complete mind control of a program created and executed by Jeanine. Using this, everyone in the faction, including new transfers who just passed initiation like Tris’ friends Christina and Will, are turned into completely obedient, brainwashed soldiers who march on Abnegation en masse to execute them, with some being coldly shot under false accusations/pretenses. Thankfully, Tris and Four are immune to the serum because they’re Divergent, but they’re discovered and brought to Jeanine, who orders for Four to be taken into custody while ordering for Tris to be executed. Thankfully, she’s saved by her mom, but then she gets tragically shot and killed while they escape.
After Tris finds her father, Caleb, Marcus and some other Abnegation members in hiding while still emotionally reeling from that, they sneak into Dauntless Headquarters and subsequently make their way into Erudite’s control center after Tris runs into Peter, another initiate who’s not under the serum’s influence, but allying himself with Erudite to save his own skin, and forces him to guide them there. Her father then sacrifices himself in a shootout to allow Tris, who has now lost both her parents, the chance to get into the main room. There, she finds Four, who Jeanine has put under a stronger mind control program designed for Divergents, with Jeanine coldly having him brutalize and attempt to kill her. In the meantime, she attends to a large console from which she’s personally about to remotely give an order to the brainwashed Dauntless to have the rest of the Abnegation faction, who they’ve already neatly rounded up in lines, to be shot/executed simultaneously (I should probably mention while I’m at it that we see a few who try to run away get shot on sight and that young children are seen alongside the lines of adults being prepped for execution).
Thankfully though, Tris manages to get through to Four, partially by appealing to one of his fears of looking an innocent in the eyes when he’s forced to kill them, with the two of them subsequently shooting and fighting their way through Erudite members to reach Jeanine. Despite stabbing her hand with a knife and then holding it to her throat, Tris still isn’t able to convince Jeanine to stop the program since she’s willing to die for her cause. It’s only when she and Four give her a taste of her own medicine by injecting her with her own mind-control serum and force her to cancel the program that she does so, saving the rest of the faction just in time. She then comes out of the trance herself and becomes infuriated at her program being cancelled, so she angrily attacks Tris, but thankfully, she’s not much of a fighter like most of her faction, so Tris handily knocks her out cold and leaves her there since she can’t bring herself to kill her.
Unfortunately, by the time Insurgent, the second movie/book, takes place a few days later, Jeanine has since framed the attempted massacre of Abnegation on the Divergents and their allies as a convenient way to invoke martial law. While doing so, she has Eric and Max lead an effort in recovering a mysterious box from the wreckage of Abnegation with all 5 faction symbols on it. She suspects that the box contains a message from the city’s founders that will contain information about how to solve the Divergent problem. However, it can only be opened by a Divergent, so she issues an order for all Divergents to be captured. We later see her putting a Divergent girl through torturous, dangerous simulations, since they need to pass 5 of them, each based on one of the factions, to open the box. However, these put extreme amounts of strain on their bodies, with another Erudite member suggesting they pull the girl out since they’re close to losing her. Jeanine, however, coldly tells them to keep her in, which shortly leads to her death, much to her apathy. We get confirmation this is the seventh Divergent they’ve put through the tests and has failed/died in the process, with Jeanine coming to the conclusion that some Divergents are, in fact, stronger than others, so she issues an order to the Dauntless who have allied with her to find a Divergent with an especially high reading and bring them to her.
During a raid on Candor, they find out that none other than Tris is the one they’re looking for, who registers a 100% reading. Despite failing to capture her, Max reports this back to Jeanine, and Peter, who’s once again allying with them to save himself, suggests the best way to get her is to exploit her selfless Abnegation upbringing. Therefore, Jeanine activates metal disks that many members of Candor were non-lethally shot with during the raid to take control of Tris’ friend Christina, along with another young woman named Marlene and a young boy named Hector. Through them, she threatens to make them all commit suicide by jumping from a high ledge to their deaths and has them all robotically declare that if Tris doesn’t turn herself in, more people will die that way each day. Tris and Tory are thankfully able to save Christina and Hector, but Marlene isn’t so lucky and falls to her death. Not being able to stand the thought of more innocent people dying because of her, Tris walks over to Erudite on foot in the dead of night to give herself up while Four’s asleep.
When she’s taken to Jeanine, Tris initially disarms Peter and threatens to shoot him, but Jeanine reacts nonchalantly and tells her to go ahead since they’ve got plenty of guards. She then threatens to commit suicide, but is stopped by Caleb, who Jeanine has fully convinced that their cause is noble and is recommitted to Erudite. She then agrees to the box’s trials if the suicides stop, but even then Jeanine only agrees to stop them after she’s completed all the trials on the basis it’ll make for good motivation. Despite how harrowing and dangerous they are, she manages to complete all of them except the Amity trial before she needs a break in order to stay alive, and when she attempts that one, she seemingly fails and dies, but it turns out Peter slipped her a serum to fake her death and help both her and Four, whom they also kidnapped when he came to save her, escape to repay Tris for sparing him earlier. However, Tris decides to stay and lock herself in the simulation room to complete the Amity trial since she doesn’t believe it contains what Jeanine thinks it does if her parents hid it rather than destroyed it.
This time, she passes it, and as a result, a message from one of the founders plays that reveals that they were all placed in a walled city with the faction system as an experiment. The biggest kicker though is that the existence of Divergents is considered proof it was a success and that they are ready to join other people outside the wall. In other words, they were the solution all along, not the problem. Jeanine’s only response to this, however, is an order to bury the box so that no one will be able to find it, and to execute Tris and Four. Thankfully, the group of rebels consisting of the Factionless, Candor and Dauntless bust in, led by Evelyn, Four’s mother. They put Jeanine and everyone loyal to her under arrest, and later as she wonders what’s beyond the wall in her cell, Evelyn visits her to tell her she’ll never find out and executes her with a gunshot to the head.
Nah, I don’t think she has any that ultimately hold up. She talks a lot about how what she’s doing is for the greater good and to ensure peace and order, as well as how the real enemy is human nature, and by extension, free will, making the Divergents especially big threats to their system. However, by the end of her part in the story, this falls very flat. One, her claims were already pretty flimsy to begin with, because most of the specific things she was condemning both the Abnegation faction and Divergents for were slander, like all the false rumors she spread about the former, and framing the latter for her faction’s attempted slaughter of the former (the only thing that was actually true was that Marcus was abusive to his son, Tobias/Four, but everything else, as far as we know, was just slander). Two, when it’s outright confirmed by the founder’s message that Divergents are the solution, not the problem like she was hoping it would confirm, she simply tries to hide it away so no one finds out about it. That proves pretty definitively that for all her talk, she doesn’t care about what’s best for society. All she really wanted all along was to put herself and her faction in power and keep it there.
In the book, she’s not really any better; she’s less directly involved in the action and mostly talked about instead of directly in the story, but she’s responsible for almost all of the same atrocities. The only major difference was that she already knew about the founder’s message, which was kept secret on a USB drive, so she wasn’t after a box and capturing Divergents to search for justification and data to help her in her plight; she simply did the same thing to find a way to control the Divergents. So while it’s proven a little less explicitly, it’s still pretty clear her atrocities towards Abnegation and Divergents are just as unjustified and more of a power play than anything else, especially since she mostly condemned them with the same unproven rumors, lies and slander.
Get past that, and she’s got nothing mitigating, let alone good going for her; she’s just a power-hungry psychopath/control freak with no empathy or care for anyone, no given excuse for turning out that way, and no one, not even the members of her own faction or those that choose to follow her, being exempt from that. This is best shown in the movie when even as Four is pummeling his way through other Erudite higher-ups and shooting some of them, she doesn’t show any concern for them, only devoting herself wholeheartedly to ensuring the Dauntless execute the rest of Abnegation in one fell swoop, as well as when Tris threatens to shoot Peter, to which she nonchalantly replies to go ahead since they have plenty of other guards. Ironically, the only strong reaction she had to the wellbeing of someone else, as well as one of the very few times she lost her composure at all, was when Tris initially seemed to die when she failed the Amity trial, but seeing as how she had tried to have her killed both before and after that, it’s pretty obvious she wasn’t upset at all about losing her; that just had to do with being one successful trial away from getting the box open, only to fall just short.
I’d say everything she does is more than enough to stand out as especially heinous by the general standard, as well as the in-story standard. Admittedly, she gets some decent competition later on from both David and Evelyn, but they both have some genuine good intentions and/or positive points to their credit. Jeanine, however, apart from her aforementioned good intentions coming off as hollow, is chiefly responsible for what are easily some of the series’ worst atrocities, particularly trying to have the entire Abnegation faction executed, children included, and by forcing nearly an entire other faction, the Dauntless, to do it with a mind-control serum, turning them all into unwilling murderers. In this setting, that’s about as close as one can get to attempted genocide, and while David’s plan later on to erase everyone’s memory is a bigger-scale plan, I’d still say committing mass murder that way to an entire faction, and one noted for being peaceful and selfless at that, is worse.
It also certain helps that in the aftermath, she framed the Divergents for it, giving her a convenient excuse to have them hunted down, and has several put in horrible simulations where they’re tortured and ultimately die, all to use them as guinea pigs in the process of either finding a way to control them, or to find one that can help her open a box that she thinks contains information justifying what she’s doing, depending on whether you’re going by the book or the movie. Then, she threatened to force numerous others from Candor to commit suicide via mind-control to make Tris give herself up willingly when she found out she was the one she was looking for. Finally, she’s even one of, if not the most personal of any of the antagonists since her assault on Abnegation lead to the deaths of Tris and Caleb’s parents, making them orphans and pretty much destroying any trace of their past life there.
Yeah, I think she counts, especially in the film adaptation, but in the books too, just to a comparably less pronounced extent. Unlike President Snow from The Hunger Games, she just doesn’t have anyone she seems to really care about, and it’s really hard, if not practically impossible to see her supposed good intentions as sincere in the end, but if you feel differently, feel free to tell me what, if anything, you think I overlooked. Thanks for reading!